UK Borders Control Bill

Prayers – in the House of Commons at 1:11 pm on 9 January 2015.

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Second Reading

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 1:13, 9 January 2015

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Let me share a chilling thought with the House. The United States had both the suspects of Wednesday’s Paris atrocity on its travel ban list, but the two French citizens who are the suspects were freely able to come to and go from the United Kingdom should they have so wished. That is one of the consequences of our lack of control over our borders, in stark contrast with the control that the United States has over its borders.

The principal attribute of a sovereign country is its ability and rights to control which aliens, that is non-citizens, can visit or stay and which cannot. That is the issue that the Prime Minister has correctly highlighted in his various speeches on immigration during the course of this Parliament. On 14 April 2011, he said that

“for too long, immigration has been too high. Between 1997 and 2009, 2.2 million more people came to live in this country than left to live abroad. That’s the largest influx of people Britain as ever had…and it has placed real pressures on communities up and down the country. Not just pressures on schools, housing and healthcare—though those have been serious…but social pressures too.”

He went on to talk about those social pressures and issues relating to integration. The Prime Minister referred to 2.2 million extra people coming to this country between 1997 and 2009, and it is against that background that the Conservative party manifesto for the last general election said that

“immigration today is too high and needs to be reduced. We do not need to attract people to do jobs that could be carried out by British citizens, given the right training and support. So we will take steps to take net migration back to the levels of the 1990s—tens of thousands a year, not hundreds of thousands.”

That led to the pledge.

What are the latest figures? They show that between June 2010 and June 2015—that is, over the course of this Parliament—we will have a net increase of migration into our country of a further 1.1 million. Roughly speaking, that is some 200,000 people a year for the first three years, 250,000 people last year and a similar number this year. That means that over the course of the five years of this Parliament, the rate of increase will be even greater than the rate of increase that was so rightly criticised by the Prime Minister in his speech in 2011 and that led to his concerns being reflected in the Conservative party manifesto. I welcome the Prime Minister’s recent reaffirmation in his speech on 29 November that he is determined to try to get net immigration down below 100,000 a year—in other words, to the tens of thousands.

It is worth considering a brief history of what has happened. The treaty of Rome in 1957 set out free movement for economically active people—in other words, for people who were working or self-employed. Everybody thought it was perfectly reasonable that someone who had a job could go and undertake it in another country within what was then the European Community comprising a much small number of nations. In the early 1990s, that right was extended to the non-economically active. Worst of all, article 8 of the treaty on the European Union conferred rights as European citizens on all those holding individual nationality of an individual member state. Against that background, this Government and this Parliament are severely constrained in what they are able to do about this matter unless we change the law along the lines set out in this Bill.

Clause 3 states:

Section 7 of the Immigration Act 1988 is hereby repealed.”

That section, which is entitled “Persons exercising community rights and nationals of member States”, says:

“A person shall not under the principal Act require leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom in any case in which he is entitled to do so by virtue of an enforceable Community right or of any provision made under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.”

It then goes on to explain how that will be implemented. Interestingly, although most of section 7 was passed into law on 20 July 1988, section 7(1) was not passed into law until 20 July 1994—six years later. I suspect that that is because the Government of the time realised in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when we had Prime Minister Thatcher in charge, that the implications of implementing it in full would potentially be very significant. Let us remember that at that stage net immigration into the United Kingdom, including immigration from the European Union, was running at about 37,000 a year. Now, over 120,000 people a year are coming in just from other countries within the European Union. In my submission, we need to ensure that the people who are currently given a privileged position under section 7 have that removed from them so that each case can be treated on its merits, as I think the public would wish.

The problem is that because of European law and the judgments that are passed by the European Court of Justice, even groups that we thought were exempt from the provisions of section 7 are now being included. In the case of Chen, for example, the United Kingdom initially made provision to allow the primary carers of European economic area residents—self-sufficient children —to seek leave to enter or remain under paragraph 257C to 257E of the immigration rules. In that case, it was ruled that those people were entitled to come in anyway. Whatever has been passed by the European Community has been extended in its impact, making it more difficult for us to be able to take control of our own borders.

Clause 1 reasserts the sovereignty of the United Kingdom in determining which non-UK citizens may enter our country and the circumstances in which non-UK citizens may be required to leave the United Kingdom.

Clause 2, which is entitled “Regulation of entry by non-UK citizens”, says:

“Notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Acts, or of any other Act or Order, Regulation or Directive, the United Kingdom retains the exclusive right to regulate entry by non-UK citizens to the United Kingdom and to determine the circumstances in which non-UK citizens may be required to leave the United Kingdom.”

I have referred already to clause 3. Clause 4 deals with registration certificates. Obviously, we must have some system of ensuring that people who are in this country who are not United Kingdom citizens are able easily to demonstrate their right to be in this country. That is why clause 4 states:

“From the date of the coming into force of this Act and notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972, any non-UK citizen resident in the United Kingdom without the authority to remain in the United Kingdom provided by a current visa, visa waiver, residence permit or other official document must apply for a registration certificate to confirm their right of residence in the United Kingdom.”

The clause goes on to set out how that would work. Certificates would be issued and administered by the Secretary of State, and the content of the forms and the grounds on which applications could be granted or refused would be prescribed by the Secretary of State.

The model that I used for those provisions is what is currently contained in the UK visas and immigration legislation, under which one can apply for a registration certificate. There is no requirement for a European economic area or Swiss national exercising treaty rights to fill in an application for such a registration certificate, but they are encouraged so to do because they can then demonstrate that they are entitled to be in the United Kingdom. Clause 4 would operate on that basis, except that under my Bill it would be mandatory for somebody to apply for a registration certificate and hold such a certificate.

As an aside, one can see what a farcical situation we have reached. The Government have said that they are concerned that a large number of people with criminal convictions from other European Union countries are coming into the United Kingdom, so I was encouraged when I saw that the application form for a registration certificate says under section 10:

“Please provide details as requested below of any criminal convictions you may have both in the UK and overseas.”

There is provision to set out all that detail. It is in the national interest that we should know whether people applying to come into this country have criminal convictions. There has been a series of well publicised cases where people with previous criminal convictions have committed further crimes in the United Kingdom, which has caused outrage.

That was fine, until I noticed that the form went on to say:

“However, please note that should you fail to provide this information this will not result in the rejection of your application.”

That is written in because the European Union will not allow us to require such information. This is just another example of the farcical situation that we are in at present, where we do not have control over the people entering and leaving our country.

Under clause 4, the registration certificate system would require people to fill in the form accurately and give information about their previous criminal convictions, in exactly the same way as anybody who wishes to go to the United States of America has to obtain a visa. If it is all right for the United States, why is it not all right for the United Kingdom, which is an attractive place to visit? People are not deterred from visiting the United States by such a requirement, and they would be no more inhibited from coming to our country if we had such requirements. The Bill would ensure that as far as possible people would be able to stay in the United Kingdom if they wanted to, provided they had registration certificates.

There is no point in issuing a command without having a sanction, so clause 5 states that anyone who is present in the United Kingdom after 31 December 2015 without legal authority or without having applied on or before that date for a registration certificate shall be guilty of an offence, as would anybody who entered or attempted to enter the United Kingdom without legal authority after that date. Clause 6 sets out the penalties. Under the current regime, there are no effective penalties against those who come into our country and we do not know how many such people there are.

In March 2014 I asked the Home Office for its

“most recent estimate…of the number of illegal immigrants employed in the UK; and what change there has been in this number since May 2010.”

The Minister for Security and Immigration, my hon. Friend James Brokenshire answered:

HM Government have not made any estimate of the number of illegal migrants currently employed in the UK. Given the clandestine nature of illegal migrants, any estimation is, by definition, extremely difficult and prone to considerable uncertainty.”—[Hansard, 3 April 2014; Vol. 578, c. 740W.]

He then went on to explain all the wonderful things the Government are doing.

On 7 April I asked the Minister

“how many illegal workers whose employment has been the subject of penalties pursuant to section 15 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 (a) have been deported and (b) are still in the UK.”

He replied:

“We are better placed than ever to identify and charge those working illegally…It would not be possible to provide the information requested without linking immigration case outcomes to our data on civil penalties issued on employers. This would incur disproportionate costs.”—[Hansard, 7 April 2014; Vol. 579, c. 116W.]

That was another completely useless response from a Government who are apparently trying to regain control over our borders, which has my full support, to ensure that the only people living here are those we really want to live here. As part of that process, of course, we need to know who those people are.

Where does one go for information about how many people are here illegally? One source of information is the Government’s December 2013 publication, “Sustaining services, ensuring fairness: Government response to the consultation on migrant access and financial contribution to NHS provision in England”. It estimates that, at any one time in England, there are about 2.5 million overseas visitors and migrants, of whom about 450,000 are from the European economic area, 1.4 million are from outside the EEA, 65,000 are ex-pats and 580,000 are irregulars,

“including failed asylum seekers liable to removal, people who have overstayed their visas and illegal immigrants”.

The Government document estimates that there are 580,000 people here who should not be here, and it goes on to explain the significant burden they are placing on the national health service in various ways and how they are not contributing as they should be.

That is the scale of the problem. There may be well over 500,000 people in this country who have no right to be here whatsoever. The Bill would, in a sense, flush them out, because if they did not have British citizenship, a residence permit or the right to stay here, they would be guilty of an offence.

I have raised before in this House the issue of what the Government are doing to enforce the provisions that make it illegal to be here without authority. I have been told that there is no need to introduce new legislative requirements, such as those in clauses 5 and 6, because section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 is clear that people who are in breach of the provisions can be prosecuted. Section 24(1) on “Illegal entry and similar offences” states:

“A person who is not a British citizen shall be guilty of an offence punishable…with a fine of not more than level 5 on the standard scale or with imprisonment for not more than six months, or with both, in any of the following cases:—(a) if…he knowingly enters the United Kingdom in breach of a deportation order or without leave; (b) if, having only a limited leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, he knowingly either—(i) remains beyond the time limited by the leave; or (ii) fails to observe a condition of the leave; (c) if, having lawfully entered the United Kingdom without leave…remains without leave beyond the time allowed”,

and so on.

In the context of the very large numbers of people thought to be in the country illegally, one might think that we would exercise effective sanctions against them. I was therefore extremely disappointed, although I must tell the Minister that I was not that surprised, to find that in 2013 the number of defendants convicted for offences under section 24(1) in all cases of people overstaying their time limit for leave—there may be hundreds of thousands of them—was two in the magistrates court and four in the Crown court. There was only one conviction in the magistrates court and one in the Crown court under section 24(1)(b)(ii) for failing to observe leave conditions.

At the moment, even the existing law is not applied. People in this country illegally and in breach of their obligations are not prosecuted or proceeded against, which is nothing short of scandalous. That is another reason why the Bill would provide a fresh starting point. Everybody not here legally would have the opportunity to leave, to seek to regularise their position by applying for a certificate or to face the consequences of failing so to do.

If we won back control over our own system, we could require people coming into the country to provide fingerprints or DNA samples. At the moment, that matter is governed by the Eurodac regulations. I have done a lot of work on migrants crossing the Mediterranean, landing in Italy and finding their way into other parts of Europe. In Italy, they are often not processed at all: their fingerprints are not taken, so nobody knows that they have ever been in Italy, which means that they can ultimately present themselves in another country in the European Union and seek asylum. Some asylum seekers or migrants try to fight the system and refuse to give their fingerprints—the Italian authorities say they do not take their fingerprints because they refuse to give them—so I suggested that if such people do not want to give their fingerprints, we should take a sample of their DNA, but I was told that that would be illegal under the Eurodac regulations. This is crazy: what harm can there be in people seeking asylum supplying their DNA, particularly if they do not want to give their fingerprints?

Photo of Bill Cash Bill Cash Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

My hon. Friend will perhaps recall that a short time ago, I presented the United Kingdom Parliament (Sovereignty and Jurisdiction over Borders) Bill, which contains a provision that would deal with any difficulties that we have in respect of immigration policy by bypassing the European Court of Justice and using the hallowed formula, “notwithstanding the European Communities Act 1972”. All the regulations and provisions that would otherwise prevent us from getting proper control over our borders would be wiped away by taking that very simple step. What astonishes me is that that formula would return governance to this country. I hope that he will bear that in mind.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. Not only have I borne that formula in mind; I have incorporated it into the text of my Bill in clauses 2 and 4. Clause 4 states:

“notwithstanding the provisions of the European Communities Act 1972”.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am delighted that the Bill will have the even more enthusiastic support of my hon. Friend. I agree with him that there is no point in pretending that we can sort this problem out without distancing ourselves from all the European Union regulations. That is why I have drafted the Bill in a way that reasserts the sovereignty of this Parliament over the borders of our United Kingdom.

I am conscious of the time, Madam Deputy Speaker. I could carry on for a bit longer, not least to point out some of the practical shortcomings of the worthy proposals that the Prime Minister made in his speech on 29 November, but I will not do that and will instead sit down, having proposed the Second Reading of the Bill.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission 1:41, 9 January 2015

My hon. Friend Mr Chope has given a comprehensive description of his Bill. I do not need to follow him down that route and will speak very briefly indeed.

My hon. Friend was right to have this short debate to draw the attention of the House to what has become one of the most important issues facing our country. Managed migration works. We welcome people, in a managed way, who want to come here to live, work and make a contribution. That is good for the economy. There is no dispute about that, and neither was there any dispute in the early years of our membership of the European Union over whether the free movement of workers between economies that performed in fundamentally the same way worked.

Unfortunately, the whole system is breaking down. It is breaking down not just in our country, but across Europe. The reason it is breaking down is that we now have economies that perform on a very different level and that have very different levels of benefits—in countries such as Romania and Bulgaria. I make no criticism of Romanians or Bulgarians—they are wonderful people, they work hard and they are welcome to come here in a managed way. I have always warmly welcomed people of Polish and Lithuanian extraction. Nobody disputes that they should be welcome. However, because there are economies with very low wage and benefit rates, the cardinal principle of the European Union, which perhaps worked in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, simply does not work now.

This debate is exercising the whole nation, not just a small group of Conservative Back Benchers who are obsessed with European and want to criticise the European Union. Many people around Europe who take an intelligent interest in whether the European Union is functioning properly are concerned about this issue. There is concern about it throughout the Conservative party, from the bottom to the top, because we are simply reflecting public opinion. The public are concerned and, therefore, there is concern even at the level of the Prime Minister.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Does my hon. Friend accept that another issue that concerns the public is the distortion of policy? If 120,000 people a year are coming in from the European Union and we cannot do anything about it, all the pressure is on trying to reduce the number of people who come in from outside the European Union, many of whom might be able to make a bigger contribution to our economy and society.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission

Yes, and we have had that debate. Apparently there is also a debate inside the Government. Those such as the Home Secretary argue that we must effectively expel all people who have completed their course—as I think happens in the United States—so that the moment they complete their university or college education they must go back to India or wherever. We read in the press that, apparently, other members of the Government—such as the Chancellor of the Exchequer who is responsible for the good management of the economy—say that we must allow those people in. All the pressure now on the Home Secretary is to try and reduce immigration from elsewhere in the world, but those people may be essential to our economy. The whole system is not working well at the moment.

As I was saying, it is not only a small group of Conservative Back Benchers who are concerned with this matter, but the wider public and indeed the Prime Minister. We understand that when he was drafting his recent speech on immigration, right up to the last minute he was determined—indeed, he went to a parliamentary meeting and talked to colleagues—to take action in terms of having some control over our borders, such as an emergency brake or whatever. This Bill is a contribution to that debate, and we must have a serious debate, away from emotion, charges of racism and all that sort of nonsense, which obviously does not apply in this case. People simply want managed migration. The system is not working at the moment, and there must be a sensible debate.

It is simply not acceptable for the Chancellor of Germany to say that such a debate is a no-go area. If we are fortunate enough to see the return of a Conservative Government, there will be a referendum. At the moment we understand that the German Chancellor has said that the issue is a no-go area, and that if it is brought up in negotiations she will veto it and it will not happen. I do not think that is a good way to proceed. If we believe in the European Union but proceed in that way, all we are doing is fuelling the fire of Euroscepticism, and forcing more and more broad-minded people, who otherwise would support our membership of the EU, to say that we have to leave. If someone supports membership of the EU, they must believe that it needs to evolve. If we believe that because a principle worked well when the European Union had very few members it is some sort of religion that is set in stone and cannot be changed, all we do is fuel the fires of Euroscepticism, and indeed something much more sinister.

We see throughout Europe what I believe is the wrong view that states that everything is bad about our countries—I do not believe that for a moment; I think they are some of the most wonderful countries in the world—and that that is the fault of a particular minority. Today it might be Romanians, Bulgarians or Poles, but in the last century it was other minority groups such as Jewish people, and in the preceding centuries it might have been those of a different religious domination. If we do not have managed migration, and if the centrist parties—the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberals—do not have a sensible debate, all we do is fuel support for extremist parties that will run with this issue. There is no doubt about that. This serious matter needs to be addressed. It will not be resolved by my hon. Friend’s Bill, but we must have a managed, rational debate on managed migration. The Bill is the first step in the right direction, which is why I commend it.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley 1:48, 9 January 2015

I rise briefly to support the Bill. Whenever I carry out surveys among my constituents, immigration is always one of the top two issues that they are concerned about, and no wonder given the figures cited by my hon. Friend Mr Chope on the level of net immigration into this country, which is running at around a quarter of a million people a year. To me and many of my constituents that is simply unacceptable, but it is also unsustainable, which in many ways is the biggest issue. Immigration is putting a huge strain on our public services, whether the NHS or school places. We simply do not have the wherewithal to build the number of houses that would be needed to house such a level of immigration. It is perfectly obvious that it is unsustainable in the long run and that the numbers need to be brought down dramatically.

As my hon. Friend said, the Prime Minister made his pledge at the previous election, and I do not doubt the sincerity with which he did so. I am sure that he was certain in his own mind that that was what he would deliver were the Conservatives to win that general election. As a caveat, I should say that we did not win the general election, so the Conservatives had to form a Government with our gallant Lib Dem colleagues. Whatever anybody thinks about them, they are not renowned for being tough on immigration. It was inevitable that any coalition with them would result in a weakened immigration policy. I accept that backdrop, but I am sure the Prime Minister, even with a hand tied behind his back, would accept that he would have hoped to do better than he has on immigration.

My hon. Friend was right to make the point that the levels of immigration are similar to those under the Labour Government, but there is a difference. It is fair to point out that, in this context, Peter Mandelson made it clear that the Labour Government sent search parties out to find people from around the world to come to the UK. Having that level of immigration was a deliberate policy of the Labour Government, whereas it is not a deliberate policy of the current Government.

Those levels of immigration have happened despite their intentions and best efforts. In many respects, they have faced a perfect storm.

Photo of Martin Horwood Martin Horwood Liberal Democrat, Cheltenham

Fascinating as it is to hear the hon. Gentleman’s views on what Peter Mandelson thought about immigration, thousands of people in this country today hope to hear a debate on Second Reading about the dangerous, costly and unpopular practice of pavement parking, my private Member’s Bill that is a little further down the Order Paper. As the hon. Gentleman promised to be brief, I wonder whether he will be able to bring his remarks to a close at some stage. That would be very helpful.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Philip Davies was making a speech on the current Bill. It is not for Martin Horwood to stand up and give an advert for his Bill. The hon. Member for Shipley is in order and has been speaking for a very short period of time thus far. We should allow him to make his points without interruption. That might help the speed of business.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

I am grateful for that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am not entirely sure what has happened to the patience of Martin Horwood, but as you said, I have only just got started. He has ensured that the chances of getting on to his Bill have become more limited, but I shall make progress. I can see why he is anxious—he does not want us to talk about Liberal Democrat immigration policy and wanted to divert attention away from it.

The Government have faced a perfect storm. In some respects, this country will always have much higher immigration. Many more people from the EU want to come to this country rather than go to other EU countries. That is partly, or perhaps mainly, because of language. If a person is looking for a job, they will go to a country where they can speak the language. It is great benefit to all that English has become a universal language, but immigration is a downside, because people from the EU who speak English who are looking for a job are more likely to come here than go to other EU countries.

The benefits system is another factor. I applaud the Government for the efforts they have made to restrict access to benefits for people from the EU. It is much tougher for people coming to this country to claim benefits. The Government intend to make it tougher still, which I very much support. Many EU countries have a system of benefits under which people have to pay in before they can take something out. Under our system, people can to a large extent take things out even if they have not paid anything in. That is also a pressure on immigration into this country.

There is also—the Government could never have predicted this—the collapse in the economy around the EU and the fact that economic growth in this country has been so much better than in the rest of the EU. I think I am right in saying—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that this country created more new jobs in the last year than the rest of the EU put together. Of course, that will be a magnet for people looking for a job, and they will want to come to this country. I fully accept that there is no way the Prime

Minister could have predicted that five years ago, when he made the promise that he did. He has faced a perfect storm.

That is why my hon. Friend’s Bill is so important. We may be a victim of our success in some ways, and other things may be beyond our control, but the fact is that, although people want to control immigration into this country, they also want something else: some honesty in the debate on immigration. Whatever anybody says, and no matter what rhetoric people use, the honest fact—the public know this, so I have no idea why politicians are so reluctant to admit it—is that while we are a member of the EU under the current regime, we cannot control immigration. We cannot say that a certain number of people will come into this country—we simply cannot. The Prime Minister made his promise in good faith, but it was one he was not entitled to make, because we do not have the ability to control the numbers of people coming into this country. My hon. Friend’s Bill allows us to do that.

In my view, we need to leave the EU; that is the only way we can control immigration into this country—not just the numbers, but the nature. My hon. Friend made the good point that the free movement of people may sound like a great principle to some, but it also means free movement of criminals. If we look at the nationality of the prison population, we see that there has been a massive increase in recent times in the number of Bulgarians and Romanians. If we had had proper controls, we could probably have stopped those people coming into the country in the first place because of the criminal records they have back home.

We need to control immigration—I think that is something the Minister agrees with, and the Government also seem to agree with it—but we have to be honest with people. We have to acknowledge and accept that the only way we can control immigration is by stopping the free movement of people in the EU. As long as we have that, we cannot control immigration, and we will just be spitting in the wind with the measures we take. I therefore hope that, to properly control immigration, the Government will accept my hon. Friend’s Bill.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 1:57, 9 January 2015

I congratulate Mr Chope on securing the debate. However, his Bill is a reminder of the gap between what the Prime Minister’s Eurosceptic Back Benchers demand and what he says.

Only this week, at his joint press conference with Chancellor Merkel of Germany, the Prime Minister confirmed his support for the principle of free movement within the EU. To be fair to Conservative Back Benchers, it must be hard to keep up with the Government’s position. First, it was that the Prime Minister was going to “sort this out”, as he said in his conference speech. Then, there was the great retreat from that position in his pre-Christmas immigration speech. Now, when standing alongside Chancellor Merkel, he talks of his new-found love for freedom of movement.

The gap between the Prime Minister and his Eurosceptic Back Benchers illustrates his plight. No renegotiation in Europe could ever satisfy some of them, other than one leading to Britain’s exit from the EU. Europe does need to change, but the tragedy for Britain is that, since being elected, the Prime Minister has spent more time negotiating with his rebellious Back Benchers than with other EU leaders. His attempts at megaphone diplomacy, such as his ill-fated opposition to the appointment of the new Commission President have left him isolated and, dare I say, humiliated.

Dragging Britain closer to the EU exit door would be damaging enough if that was the Prime Minister’s thought-out strategy. Worse than that, however, he is marginalising Britain in Europe without even thinking it through. A British exit from Europe by default is an even bigger failure of leadership than exit by design.

I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman and other speakers on the Government Benches over their disappointment with the Government’s record on immigration. I do not think it is fair to blame that entirely on the Liberal Democrats either, who are a minority in the coalition. The Government have abandoned the Prime Minister’s “no ifs, no buts” immigration target. The chief inspector of borders finds that the Government make no attempt to check potential immigrants’ criminal records. In October last year, the Public Administration Committee found that 50,000 failed asylum seekers have been lost. We do not know where they are. What is needed is not exit from the European Union, but renegotiation, delays before new arrivals can claim benefits, more and properly trained border staff, proper entry and exit checks, and a requirement for applicants to provide criminal records.

What is remarkable about the debate over Europe in the Conservative party is that it thinks speculation about the UK leaving is Europe is costless. It is not. It places a huge question mark over British jobs, rights at work, investment and our place in the world. It is a growing national tragedy that the Prime Minister is too weak to stand up to the Eurosceptics in his party, or to engage our European Union colleagues properly.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission

The hon. Gentleman is making a very serious point. We are all agreed that we want to stop criminals entering the country. Is he saying that the Labour believes there should be some sort of device by which we can require EU nationals entering this country to prove that they are not guilty of a criminal offence, or some way in which we can prevent criminals from other EU countries coming to this country? Is he saying that?

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The Labour party is very keen to negotiate from a position of solidarity with our European Union colleagues. That is what the Labour party would do if elected in a few weeks’ time.

In the meantime, I remain very disappointed that the Prime Minister has failed to engage our European colleagues and the leaders of our fellow EU states in proper negotiations. By failing to do so, he will never secure the improvements that I think Members on all sides of the House would like to see on this issue and in our relationship with the EU.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:01, 9 January 2015

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Chope on the Bill and on the debate he has started today.

The Bill raises important issues on the control of immigration to the UK. That is a key priority for the Government, and we have taken significant steps to strengthen the border and immigration system, including in respect of who is allowed to enter the UK and who is allowed to remain. I therefore strongly commend the intention behind my hon. Friend’s Bill, but I do not believe that the measures it contains are necessary. There are also aspects of the Bill that would be unlawful.

The measures contained in the Bill do not reflect the extent to which the new powers and other reforms to control immigration, which the Government have put in place already, provide an effective basis for controlling our borders. For example, the Immigration Act 2014 put in place a series of fundamental reforms that will ensure our immigration system is fairer to British citizens and legitimate migrants, and tougher on those with no right to be here. The 2014 Act limits the factors which draw illegal migrants to the UK and introduces tough domestic reforms to ensure that our controls on access to benefits and services, including the NHS and social housing, are among the tightest in Europe.

A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends have mentioned net migration numbers. Our reforms have cut net migration from outside the EU by nearly a quarter since 2010, close to levels not seen since the late 1990s. Under the previous Labour Government, more than 1 million EU nationals came to the UK from 2004 to 2010. As my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh said, managed migration works. Like him, I am positive about both this country today and the future. We have a diverse population, which makes the UK a great place to be. It is also worth saying that there are pockets of the country where there has been significant amounts of migration, but there are areas that have not seen great changes in population. According to the Office for National Statistics, my own constituency saw an increase in population of 200 between 2004 and 2013, and some of them will, of course, be UK nationals returning.

My hon. Friend Philip Davies raised the issue of our economy. We have a booming economy in this country compared with the rest of Europe. The job is not finished, but our long-term economic plan means that the prospects for this country and this economy are better than they are anywhere else. He is right about the number of jobs created here in the UK. I understand that over the last four and a half years, we have created more jobs here in the UK than have been created in the whole of the rest of the European Union combined. That is why there is a pull factor for people. I can well understand that. I can understand why somebody sees an opportunity to get a job in Britain and thinks that it offers a better chance. We can all sympathise with that and understand it, but we have to be clear that migration policy must be fair to UK nationals living here today.

The Government have fundamentally changed the system we inherited, under which an EU national could arrive in the UK and claim benefits shortly after their arrival and for a significant period, with few checks on whether they had a real chance of finding work here. Now, EU national jobseekers cannot claim benefits until they have been resident here for three months, and then only for three months before we test whether or not they have a genuine prospect of finding work in the UK. Now, they have no access to housing benefit, and we have introduced new powers to remove EU nationals who are not fulfilling the requirements for residence and to prevent their re-entry for 12 months. We have new powers, too, to deport EU national criminals more quickly.

The Immigration Act 2014 will strongly reinforce our work to secure our borders, enforce our immigration laws and continue to attract the brightest and best to the UK. Implementation is well advanced: many of the measures have gone live and are already having a positive impact on the ground. For example, we have revoked more than 4,500 driving licences held by illegal migrants, and since July 2014 we have deported more than 150 criminals, using new powers provided by the Act. New measures in it, including the immigration health surcharge and measures to tackle sham marriages and civil partnerships, will be introduced on a phased basis between now and April 2015. The Immigration Act also makes it easier to remove those with no right to be here and ensures that the courts must have regard to Parliament’s view of what the public interest requires in immigration cases, engaging the qualified right to respect private and family life under article 8 of the European convention on human rights.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I sympathise with the Minister, given the responsibilities she has. I have just been looking at the immigration statistics issued on 27 November, covering the period July to September 2014. It says there that there were 9% fewer enforced removals from the United Kingdom compared with the previous 12 months. If the Government are getting so tough on deporting these people—quite rightly—why were there fewer removals in that period?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my hon. Friend for his question and I shall come on to his comments. We must be clear, however, that the Immigration Act gives us new powers. We have powers to remove people without regard to the number of appeals that they could previously have used. We should look at the powers that we have today and the criminals we can deport today.

Foreign criminals and immigration offenders are no longer able to hide behind weak human rights claims to prevent their removal from the UK—something that they could do before. We do not need the Bill’s provisions to enable us to deport foreign criminals or remove immigration offenders. The Court of Appeal has now confirmed that the consideration of a family or private life claim must be conducted in the light of Parliament’s view of the public interest, as set out in the Immigration Act.

The measures taken by the Government have significantly strengthened the legal framework for our border and immigration system provided by the Immigration Act 1971 and other legislation, which regulates non-UK citizens’ entry to, and stay in, the UK. The legal framework and operational measures we have put in place provide and implement the powers needed to examine non-UK citizens before or on arrival in the UK to determine whether they should be admitted or granted or refused leave to enter, in accordance with the immigration rules and regulations laid before Parliament.

Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

According to a recent survey of border staff, 98% of them have warned that they do not have enough resources to protect the border effectively. Why is that?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

As the hon. Gentleman will know, it is this Government who dealt with the failing UK Border Agency and introduced Border Force and UK Visas and Immigration. My meetings with Border Force officials and guards on the front line are always positive. It is clear to me that those dedicated professionals are doing all that they can to protect our borders, because they understand just how important it is for them to do so. I shall deal shortly with the issue of criminal movement within the European Union and across our borders.

The Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 provide for the admission of EEA nationals and their family members and the removal of those who are not entitled to reside, in accordance with European Union law.

While I agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s thinking, I believe that parts of the Bill would be unlawful. Its aim is to ensure that the United Kingdom has absolute control over the right to prevent non-UK citizens from entering the UK, and to determine the circumstances in which they may be required to leave. It asserts the absolute sovereignty of the UK in controlling its own borders, notwithstanding our existing international treaty obligations and the domestic legislation that gives effect to them.

The Bill would repeal section 7 of the Immigration Act 1988, which provides the basis on which those exercising European Union rights are not required to obtain leave to enter or remain in the UK under the Immigration Act 1971 and subsequent legislation. Essentially, it seeks to curtail the free movement of EU citizens to the UK under existing treaty rights. The provisions curtailing rights of entry are not compatible with EU free movement rights, and we cannot pass national legislation that does not comply with EU law.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Chair, Public Accounts Commission, Chair, Public Accounts Commission

Does the Minister accept, therefore, that the Government’s settled position is to acknowledge that there can be no change in the treaties, and that EU nationals must have unrestricted access to this country?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I shall come to the restrictions that the Government place on EU nationals, particularly those with criminal histories.

The Bill would not achieve its intended objectives owing to the principle of direct effect, which means that EU nationals can derive rights directly from the free movement directive and the treaty on the functioning of the European Union, whether or not those provisions have been given effect in UK law.

Let me now deal with the question from my hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh. Free movement is not without conditions, and I am keen to ensure that any free movement includes the free movement of criminal information. I want to ensure that a police officer in Leek, in my constituency, has as much information about an individual residing in Leek as a police officer in any other town in any other country in the European Union has about someone with a criminal past. The 35 measures that the UK chose to opt back into in December last year are vital to ensuring that criminal information moves freely between EU countries. If we are to keep UK citizens safe, we shall need to know about the criminal past of people who are trying to enter the UK.

EU nationals arriving at the UK border can be stopped and questioned by Border Force officers to establish their right of admission to the UK when that is appropriate. Border Force officers can refuse admission to EU nationals when such action is necessary and proportionate—for example, owing to their criminal convictions or conditions arising from a previous removal or deportation, or when officers have reasonable grounds to suspect that admitting them would give rise to an abuse of free movement rights. In the first three quarters of 2014, 1,205 EU nationals were initially refused admission at the UK border. Opting into the 35 measures means that we shall have more and more information about criminals, and we will—and do—exercise the right to refuse their admission to the UK.

Effective renegotiation is the way to bring about a real change in the basis for EU migration. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister set out his agenda for that in November. It includes the introduction of a four-year residency requirement before an EU national can have access to in-work benefits or social housing in the UK, the removal of child benefit for non-resident children of EU nationals, and further powers to deport EU criminals and tackle abuse.

I do not believe that the measures proposed by my hon. Friend are necessary for the proper control of our borders. For all the reasons that I have given, the Government cannot support his Bill.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 2:15, 9 January 2015

Well, what a disappointment it is that the Government are not going to accept this Bill. I thought it was going to go through, but instead I am going to have to explain my disappointment to my constituents and to a wider audience. The debate has been useful, however, because it shows the extent of the constraints that this Parliament has chosen to impose on itself. [Interruption.] The Minister is agreeing with that. We have chosen to fetter our ability to control our borders, and this Bill would enable us to take the fetters off.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I just want to clarify what I was agreeing with. I thought my hon. Friend was going to talk about the great steps this Government have taken to ensure that we have managed migration. I apologise if I misunderstood what he was about to say.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Nothing I have said, or that I intend to say, is designed to detract from the achievements of the Government. All I am saying is that despite the Government’s best efforts—as my hon. Friend Philip Davies said, this Government have been working a lot harder and more effectively on this than the previous Government did—faced with the evidence I have educed today, I do not see how under the current legal regime we are going to be able to reduce net migration into this country to the tens of thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands as is the case at present.

The Prime Minister reasserted in his speech of 29 November his desire to get net migration down below 100,000. I agree with that. All I am saying is that I do not see how it is going to be done. We have got to have an open and honest debate about this, and it may well be that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley is right that the only solution—unless we can get our EU colleagues to change the treaties, which seems to be a rather uphill struggle—is to put this issue to the British people in a referendum. They have not had the chance to have their say on this before because when we last had a referendum we had no concept of European citizenship and free movement of people, as imposed on us now. We could say to the people, “Do you wish to retake control of your own borders and re-establish ourselves as a sovereign nation with control over our own destiny, or do you wish to remain in perpetuity subservient to a supranational power, the European Union?” That is a clear proposition and I think it is implicit in what I have been saying that when presented with that choice I would choose freedom, sovereignty and democracy—and the rule of law.

I am therefore sorry that this Bill is not going to make any more progress. I could test the will of the House on it, but if I was to do that, I would jeopardise the chance of having even a very short canter round on the next Bill on the Order Paper, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and Bill, by leave, withdrawn.